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Basketball, Happiness, and Life Satisfaction


06Apr 2008

Many of you may not know that I was born and raised in Lawrence, Kansas — where the University of Kansas is located. As a result, I grew up going to KU football and basketball games with my dad. And I continue to be a devoted Jayhawk (their mascot) fan.

So if you happen to follow college basketball, you know that we are in the midst of “March Madness” and the NCAA championship tournament. This weekend and Monday, April 7, are the final games in San Antonio. And it so happens that the University of Kansas basketball team will be playing in the championship game on Monday night, after winning their game on Saturday night against North Carolina. We watched the game with some friends and had a great time celebrating the win.

Interestingly, at the same time I am enjoying the KU basketball team winning games, I am also reading a fascinating book called Thrilled to Death: How the endless pursuit of pleasure is leaving us numb by Archibald Hart. I have read other books by Dr. Hart and have appreciated his insights. One of his premises in this book is that we are intensely seeking pleasurable experiences in our culture — to the point of burning out the “pleasure center” of our brain and eventually making it increasingly difficult for us to experience the pleasure we desire.

Dr. Hart then goes on to differentiate between happiness (or life satisfaction) and pleasure. He states, “Happiness does not depend on glitzy, pleasure-filled experiences. It comes more from a feeling of deep contentment or the appreciation of the finer things in your life. . . True happiness is more enduring than pleasure.” He goes on to share that happiness seems to be more related to relationships — a good marriage, close friends, and lots of time socializing with others.

So, how does this relate to basketball and KU playing in the NCAA Championship game? Well, I have often been dissatisfied with the tournament experience. Although it does provide a clear champion from the playoff tournament (as opposed to the college football system which does not), I have often felt a general distaste for the result — or at least the way the media and many people talk about the results — that there is only one “winner” (the champion). So, no matter how many games a team won throughout the season, no matter how well they played in spite of adversity, there is a message that they didn’t succeed enough because they didn’t “win it all”.

This just doesn’t sit right with me, when reflecting on how life really is. Are you only successful when you are at the top of the competition, with no one above you? And given the short time frame (one year maximum), you are only the champion for a short period of time (it is shorter in business.)

The personal application is this. I am enjoying the ride. It was fun to see KU win their league championship, and then the tournament games. Saturday night was a total hoot and I am still relishing the memory of seeing them play well. But if they lose Monday night, they aren’t “losers” — and my life won’t be wrecked. (This is not a ploy to play down expectations – they very well may win.) But for many people, and for myself in past years, “winning it all” is the only result that will result in happiness — which may speak to why so many people in our country are unhappy. If you have to be the best, if everything has to go your way for you to be happy, you will be unhappy most of your life.

Let’s go back to Dr. Hart and Thrilled to Death. He gives a number of suggestions which he calls “happiness boosters”. Let’s look at them and see how they really relate to deeper aspects of our lives than just temporary circumstances.

1. Intentionally do something unselfish for someone else every day.

2. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and quickly forgive yourself.

3. Give up expecting others to be perfect – just accept them as they are.

4. Whenever anyone offends, you forgive him or her without delay.

5. Try to simplify your life – do a make over from top to bottom.

6. Make sure you get enough sleep and exercise every day.

7. Spend as much time as you possibly can with those you love.

8. Spend twenty minutes each day in quiet reflection or meditation.

9. Each day, take a few minutes to write down all that worries you –and then cross out the ones you have no control over.

10. Every night before going to sleep, remind yourself of five things you are grateful for.

Clearly, these are not the typical highly pleasurable activities usually focused upon in our stimulation-seeking culture. But, as Dr. Hart argues, these are the types of activities that bring the deeper, longer lasting pleasure associated with true happiness.

So, if you watch the KU-Memphis game on Monday night, think of me. And when you go to bed, regardless of who wins, think of those five things for which you are grateful.

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